When someone hits the age of 50, it is normal to ask if they have to change the way they train to become fit and strong. Based on my 60+ years of physical training, I have a set of suggestions.
In my view there are three main things you need to account for in your training as you age past 50:
- Proper conditioning to do heavy training
- Deal with specific weaknesses or muscle imbalances
- Manage recovery
Other than these three areas of emphasis, you can do the same programs as anyone in their 30’s.
The idea of “being in condition” to lift weights (or run, etc.) may sound a little strange at first. However, I have seen many senior lifters get injured because they literally had not prepared their body the do heavy training. This means building up your resilience.
Muscles and connective tissues must be strong and resilient enough to do weeks (and months) of heavy training. If they are not, then eventually they will not just get weaker, but may have a catastrophic failure. For example, it may be possible to train for several weeks on heavy deadlifts, but the tendons will not strengthen as fast as the muscles. At some point, a tendon rupture is a distinct possibility.
Conditioning involves doing a selected few assistance exercises with light weights for 8-10 reps. Work well below your limit, and focus on full range of motion.
Another key is progressing slowly (but surely) as you use bigger weights. Also, giving the body extra rest during heavy training is essential. (More on that below). You should also do some limited conditioning exercises that aid both muscle endurance and conditioning connective tissues. (I include routines for this in Powerlifting Over 50)
A second key bit of advice for those of us who are “over 50” is to look for specific areas of weakness in your body that may have emerged over time. Everyone has these, and everyone will develop some of these unless you take steps to prevent this from happening.
For example, lifters who spend a huge amount of time training on the bench press frequently find that they develop weaknesses in the upper (and often lower) back. It is critical to do everything you can to insure that your muscularity is balanced, or you risk a significant injury. It will usually occur in the underdeveloped muscles.
Another issue that may emerge is that some muscle groups may have deteriorated a little bit if you have not been doing certain exercises for a while. For example, I found that when I switched from doing kettlebell goblet squats to doing kettlebell front squats, the stresses were slightly different, and I was surprisingly sore the day after my first front squat session. I worked into this “new” exercise gradually, and was able to ramp up my effort after about ten days of restraint.
The third area where over 50 fitness folks really need to constantly focus attention is to insure that they get adequate recovery from their training. Recovery is the time when your strength increases.
The legendary Dan John once commented that no one gets strong by lifting heavy weights. You get strong by lifting heavy weights and recovering.
If you don’t get adequate recovery, then your progress will stall, and you will probably regress. This is one of those iron laws of aging that we can’t change with slogans like “tough it out” or “man up”.
Insuring that you have adequate recovery can lead to some previously unthinkable actions. For example, if you are tired, you might actually blow off a workout. You can also cut down on sets and reps during a training session. You will come back much stronger the next session…and over the next weeks, months and years.
Over training is the “yellow brick road” to mediocre performance. Sleep and rest are your secret weapons for getting stronger and performing better.
Other than the three areas discussed above, anyone over age 50 can train pretty much the same way you would train if you were 30.
The biggest thing any senior athlete needs to do is many times the most difficult….don’t let your enthusiasm override your good sense. A real key to succeeding as a +50 athlete is to use the life experience you have to your best advantage. Remember that “old age and guile can often beat youth and speed”…
Enjoy the journey: Richard